Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: What do you do when you’re surrounded by judgmental, narrow-minded adults who don’t like it that your son plays with baby dolls? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
My four-year-old son loves to play with his older sister’s baby dolls. He always has. He likes to play with them with her and also by himself. He loves taking care of them, dressing them, feeding them, and changing their “diapers.” It doesn’t bother me or my spouse at all, but our families have made comments here and there, little “jokes” about how he needs some monster trucks or action figures (both of which he has and also loves). I find it all insufferable and outdated, tbh. We got him two of his own dolls (so he’s not just stuck with big sister’s hand-me-down toys) and a few other doll-related items for Christmas, and I’m dreading the family reaction. We’re Zooming the present-opening so our parents can watch, and I need to make it clear that judgy comments won’t be tolerated. HELP.
I’m so glad your son has two supportive parents who lovingly encourage his hobbies and interests, full stop. And a big sister who is willing to share her toys with him and engage with him and his love of dolls. Anyone who would shame a child — whether indirectly or in front of him — well, it may be worth considering how much access you give them to your kids.
I think it’s worth having a conversation before Zoom Christmas. Tell Grandma Sally and Pop-Pop Jim that Santa is bringing your son dolls of his own because he loves them and they make him happy. Make it clear that any remarks that stray even the slightest bit from “Oh how wonderful!” will not be tolerated. And if you’re feeling extra generous, explain why it’s important to encourage this interest. One, because it’s something he loves and it makes him happy, and two, because he’s learning how to be nurturing and empathetic and how to care for something outside of himself. The world would surely be a better place if we let little boys embrace these characteristics instead of shaming them for demonstrating love.
Remember, you and your spouse are the gatekeepers to your children. And I don’t subscribe to the whole “family is family no matter what” notion because I firmly believe that people must consistently prove they are worthy of being around impressionable young people. Sharing blood or a name doesn’t automatically grant you license to do or say or act however you want (i.e. “Oh that’s just how Uncle Larry is, he’s old, don’t get mad” is dumb. If Uncle Larry is cool with making fun of a kid, Uncle Larry should be tough enough to withstand criticism as a consequence).
Maybe that sounds harsh, but think about how you’d feel if they were “joking” about how much food your daughter eats. Children are so impressionable and these judgments make them feel like who they are and what they do is wrong. That kind of damage, no matter how brief the act is itself, can last a lifetime.
Let’s hope a preemptive chiding is enough to deter any family members from perpetuating harmful stereotypes and giving your son a complex about his interest in dolls. If not, boundaries are a beautiful thing.